Thomas Wright surveys in Malpeque Bay but inaccuracy of his work in West Prince leads to several problems
Editor’s note: This is one of a series by Earle Lockerby recounting the details of Capt. Holland’s Survey in 1764/1765. This submission is for the week ending July 4.
Deputy Surveyor Thomas Wright, one of the few civilians in Captain Samuel Holland’s survey party, spent the whole week surveying in Malpeque Bay which a few months later would be given the name Richmond Bay by Holland. Wright had begun surveying the bay on June 20 and by July 4 was still not finished with it.
There are several reasons why the surveying of this bay required a lot of time. First, it is “complex” in that it contains several islands, has barrier dunes across its mouth, has a substantial river, the Grand River, running into it, and at that time had two channels leading into it from the Gulf (but now only one). It was viewed as one of the three most important harbours on the Island, and perhaps the most important in relation to the fishery.
Moreover, on the western side of the bay lay the remains of a pre-deportation Acadian settlement of Malpec. The centre of the settlement was near the present-day Port Hill, but it extended along the coast to the Grand River and northward to the present-day Bideford - in what are now Lots 13 and 14 were 36 houses and barns and an estimated 1,100 acres of cleared land. Consequently, Wright spent considerable time surveying and sounding the Malpeque Bay area.
It is a common perception that Holland’s map of St. John’s Island is exceedingly accurate. While the map is, in general, very accurate for its time, allowing for the equipment and techniques available to Holland, it is not as accurate as has been presumed, most notably in the West Prince area where parts of the coast are not accurately depicted and, consequently, the land area is underestimated by more than 20,000 acres — the equivalent of a whole township! This of course was the region surveyed by Wright. Indeed, most of the “problem areas," not only in Prince County, but also on the north shore of the western part of Queens County, can be attributed to Wright. However, it must also be acknowledged that Thomas Wright surveyed more of the Island’s coastline than any other sur- veyor in Holland’s team.
It took some decades before surveyors who were laying out township boundaries on the ground realized the discrepancies between the Holland map and the actual terrain in West Prince — to the west and north of the present-day Portage. The problem became so vexing for surveyors that in 1840 the House of Assembly enacted legislation that suspended the application in Prince County of the Boundary Lines Act that had been passed in 1834. In the preamble of the act of 1840 one may read the words: “Owing to the inaccuracy of the original plan of the Island...," i.e., the Holland map. The act of 1840 brought to a standstill for several years all surveying of township boundaries in Prince County — and the suspension lasted even longer in West Prince - until surveyors could figure out how to resolve these difficulties.
Readers may learn more about these problems and about the accuracy of Holland’s map in the soon-to-be-released book, Samuel Holland: His Work and Legacy on Prince Edward Island.
Earle Lockerby is a co-author of Samuel Holland: His Work and Legacy on Prince Edward Island. The book will be launched from noon to 1:30 p.m., July 6 in Room 319, Centre for Applied Science and Technology, Holland College (300 Kent St., Charlottetown). Refreshments will be provided. Lockerby can be contacted by email at email@example.com.